Four K-12 Education Models That May Gain Popularity During COVID-19

In just a few weeks, US education has dramatically changed. Schools have been closed for the academic year in most states, and some districts have already canceled their foray into virtual school-at-home this spring, ending the school year early. With more than 50 million US students at home with their families, engaged in varying degrees of quarantine schooling, questions emerge about how long this will last and what education may look like post-pandemic. Most families will be eager to resume their previous routines, returning to school and work as soon as it’s allowed, likely with strong social distancing measures in place. But some families may be curious about K-12 education models that favor personalization, small group learning environments, high-quality virtual programming and other innovative alternatives.

While most of us have been forced to work and learn from home for the past two months, separated from our colleagues and community, some employers and employees are finding that working from home has its benefits, including higher productivity gains and lower costs. A recent Brookings Institution report reveals that we “may see a more permanent shift toward telecommuting” continuing long after the pandemic ends. Similarly, some students are finding that they prefer this pandemic distance learning experiment over traditional schooling. Additionally, a recent survey by EdChoice finds that more than half of respondents have a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic, suggesting a rising openness to different K-12 learning models. As parents experience a growing cultural embrace of teleworking that can create more workplace freedom and flexibility, they may also look to grant this freedom and flexibility to their children, seeking educational options beyond a conventional classroom.

Here are four K-12 education models that will likely get increased attention over the coming months:

Forest Schools

Forest preschools and outdoor early childhood programs were already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. The New York Times reported last summer that “nature-based preschools have seen a tidal wave of interest in recent years,” pointing to survey data from a national organization that represents nature preschools and forest kindergartens. These programs prioritize ample outside time, natural play and exploration, typically with small class sizes and enthusiastic educators who enjoy helping children to learn in and from nature in all kinds of weather.

As conventional schools implement social distancing measures that may include staggered attendance to keep class sizes down and avoid over-crowded school buildings, some families may look to full-time programs that already focus on small groups and outside learning. Christine Heer, M.Ed. and Lisa Henderson are the co-owners of Sprouts, the first licensed farm and forest kindergarten in Massachusetts. They explain that their program is held almost entirely outdoors and already provides adequate space necessary for safe interactions between children and teachers. Heer expects that programs like Sprouts will become a model for other early childhood programs coping with reopening amidst the pandemic, as well as a magnet for parents exploring other educational options.

Heer explains: “COVID-19 is now forcing communities to look at new ways of offering safe, healthy options for education at all levels and we are convinced that programs like ours will attract the attention of parents and educators as we reconsider how to bring children back into childcare and preschool settings in a safe, stress-free way.” Henderson adds: “We will be making some slight adjustments when we return to Sprouts, like creating a hands-free hand washing station and keeping lunch boxes in individual backpacks instead of mixing them together in a crate. We believe that nature-immersive programs are the perfect fit to address the stress-free, healthy environments we will need to provide for families.”

Microschools

The push toward smaller, less institutionalized learning environments may also be a boost for the burgeoning microschool movement. Microschools usually operate out of homes or local community organizations and typically have no more than a dozen K-12 students, of varying ages. Often microschools operate as hybrid homeschool programs, where young people are registered as homeschoolers but attend a microschool either full- or part-time, taking classes and engaging with teachers and mentors. Sometimes microschools operate through state charter school programs, such as Arizona-based Prenda, a fast-growing network of in-home microschools that is tuition-free for Arizona residents. New microschool models may gain momentum as parents seek a consistent, in-person learning environment for their children that emphasizes personalization and small class sizes.

If history offers any lessons as to what might happen when schools reopen, it’s possible that many parents may continue to keep their children at home, at least in the short-term. NPR recently highlighted historical research by health care economist, Melissa Thomasson, who found that when New York City schools reopened during the 1916 polio epidemic, approximately one-quarter of the city’s schoolchildren stayed home, prompting the city to temporarily loosen its compulsory attendance laws. If this happens during our current pandemic, neighbors may decide to form their own in-home learning co-ops, taking turns caring for and educating each other’s children while balancing their own work schedules. Well-regarded homeschool programs, such as Oak Meadow and Clonlara, could see a bump in sales as parents look for curriculum guidance beyond, or in addition to, virtual learning, and new curriculum offerings could emerge to meet growing demand.

Virtual Degree Programs

By necessity, the pandemic has introduced many parents and children to the possibility of virtual learning. While we may all clamor for face-to-face interaction again, we are likely more comfortable with online connections and learning and working remotely than we were prior to this stay-at-home experience. Some students are finding that they prefer online education, and parents may be curious about virtual learning options going forward. Many states offer tuition-free virtual public school options, such as those provided through K12. Some colleges and universities are beginning to offer rigorous online programs for high school students that combine earning an accredited high school diploma with college credits, giving young people more autonomy and flexibility in their learning, while helping to defray college tuition costs.

Affiliated with Arizona State University, ASU Prep Digital is a fully online, accredited high school that incorporates college credits into its curriculum. The online school is tuition-free for Arizona residents, and the full-time accelerated program for out-of-state students costs just under $7,000 a year. Supporting the expansion of education choice mechanisms, such as education savings accounts, vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs, can help more families to opt out of their assigned district school and select other education options that may otherwise be financially out-of-reach.

New online learning programs will also likely sprout during and after this pandemic, as parents and students become more at ease with, and supportive of, virtual education. One virtual school startup, Sora Schools, is already seeing more interest in its nascent, project-based program that serves high schoolers across the country. “We’ve actually been growing a lot in the last couple of months,” says cofounder Indra Sofian. “Recently we’ve had many conversations with parents who are not prepared to fully homeschool their children and parents who were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their students’ schooling in the fall. We’re currently projecting to enroll at least 50 students based on our current growth rate by the fall.” As many investors shift their portfolios toward edtech startups during the pandemic, it is likely that online education options and virtual learning tools will continue to expand in the coming months.

Homeschooling

Even though pandemic homeschooling is nothing like the real thing, the finding that parents have a more favorable impression of homeschooling now than before is a strong signal that at least some of them will choose the homeschooling option even when schools reopen. A recent informal survey conducted by Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation found that 15 percent of parents say they will choose homeschooling when schools reopen. If these parents have warmed up to homeschooling under these difficult social distancing circumstances, just wait until they can actually leave the house, go to the library and museums, gather with friends, take community classes and so on.

Images have started to appear of what back-to-school looks like in some countries as children return to school. Some parents might be turned off by the idea of their children wearing masks and face shields all day, as well as learning in spread out classrooms, and may choose homeschooling, at least until the pandemic ends. With more parents likely to continue teleworking post-pandemic, job flexibility may also allow for more learning flexibility, as parents discover that they don’t have to be the ones teaching their homeschooled children but rather connecting them to both in-person and online tutors, mentors, classes and other resources.

COVID-19 has disrupted much of the way we live and learn, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Forest schools, microschools, online learning programs and homeschooling will likely become increasingly popular in the coming months, as parents search for other education options beyond their local school. While some private schools are shutting down as a result of the pandemic, unable to cope with the economic shock, this can be a great time for visionary entrepreneurs to create more nimble K-12 learning models that give parents and learners the high-quality, flexible and safe academic environment they want.

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Curiosity: The Master Impulse

Curiosity is the master impulse behind all human progress and good things.

Every dominant belief and political structure are optimized as the antithesis of curiosity.

Curiosity is the greatest threat to concentrated power and prestige, so those who have power and prestige labor endlessly to create the mind-killing opposite of all curiosity. Consensus. Obedience. Being seen as “normal”, “in the know”, “respectable”.

Curiosity doesn’t care about reputations and rules. That’s why it’s the only impulse with the power to cut through the human bullshit matrix and create progress and discovery.

The least respectable ideas often have more curiosity behind them than the most respected. It doesn’t make the specific ideas any better or more true, but you can be sure that the curious impulse behind wacky ideas is more beneficial to humanity than the obedient prestige-seeking behind consensus.

It’s impossible to overestimate the unpredictable power of raw curiosity unencumbered by the need to be seen as serious.

Death and Awakening

Curiosity is the ultimate flame of progress, growth, and meaning. It’s what makes us most human, and pushes us closest to the divine.

Curiosity is what leads to breakthroughs.

If you look at the history of man you see a relentless curiosity. The same curiosity that turns people into martyrs and heretics brings humanity forward.

If there is a “great stagnation” as Peter Thiel, Tyler Cowen, and others believe, it is the stagnation of curiosity. The battle against curiosity has been waged since the beginning of time by tyrants, despots, authoritarians, and fear-mongers. And for the last 100 years or so, curiosity has been losing. The entire schooling system is one gigantic effort to contain curiosity. Credentialism, official bodies and bureaucrats, licenses, unified master plans, oustings and labelings are systematic battles against curiosity.

Obedience is the antithesis of curiosity. Curiosity is dangerous. Curiosity, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is not safe, but it’s good.

You can see the dominant impulses today are the opposite of curiosity. Climate change fear and the idea of “consensus” is the enemy and opposite of all curiosity. It’s a mind killer. It’s a progress killer. It leads to death and stagnation. Unmitigated trust in scientific and medical professionals is a curiosity killer. There is a lot of dead curiosity lingering in the heart of every human on the planet.

Or maybe it’s just dormant. And maybe it’s awakening just a bit.

In fact, there is a lot of hope right now.

Curiosity has new vistas as wide ranging as a renewed interest in spirituality and Jordan Peterson to conspiracy theories that spread on 4chan and Reddit. These are good, whether or not they’re true. Forget the specifics of individual claims or beliefs. The fact that people are yearning for and exploring ideas considered wacky and out of bounds by the curiousless consensus is good.

Curiosity is good. Curiosity is ready to have a new dawn. And humanity is desperate for its master impulse to awaken again.

Ancient aliens. The flat earth. Political conspiracy. Religious resurgence. Jung. Archetypes. Alchemy. Astrology. Myths. UFOs. The “Invisible College”. The Mandela Effect. Time travel. Simulation theory. Planetary colonization.

What do they have in common?

They live only in a world where curiosity is not dead. Even as the cost of exploration outside the curiosity killing norms grows, so too do the number of people playing around with heretical ideas.

Again I emphasize, it’s not important what percentage of these ideas are “correct”. What’s important is the courage to play with the ideas. Those who play with crazy ideas are the R&D arm for humanity. They move us forward not only with their discoveries, but with their attitude. Nothing is more deeply human than relentless curiosity.

Anti-Science?

Unbridled curiosity is the root of all breakthroughs. Slavish repetition and rule-following kills it. Typically a few generations after a breakthrough by a curious tinkerer, a school of soul-dead followers canonize the details and fear deviation. The spirit through which disciplines are born are smothered by the formalization of the disciples.

If you think wild, crazy, weird, mystical, politically, socially, and philosophically dangerous ideas aren’t behind the progress of humanity, think again.

Here is a passage on the heroes of science, and their obsession with forbidden knowledge, secret societies, and mysticism:

WHEN WE PEER INTO THE HIDDEN LIVES of the heroes of science, the people who forged the mechanical world-view and made the great leaps forward in technology that have made our lives so much safer, easier and more pleasant, we often find they are deeply immersed in esoteric thought – particularly alchemy.

We might also consider the lesser but related paradox that many of the world’s most notorious occultists and outlandish visionaries were also in their own way practically minded men, often responsible for smaller but nevertheless significant inventions.

Looking at both groups together, it is difficult to see a clear distinction between scientists and occultists, even as we move into modern times. Rather there is a spectrum in which the individual is a bit of both, albeit to varying degrees.

Paracelsus, perhaps the most revered of occultists, revolutionized medicine by introducing the experimental method. He was also the first to isolate and name zinc, made great breakthroughs in the importance to medicine of hygiene and also was the first to formulate principles which would come to underlie homeopathy.

Giordano Bruno is a great hero of science because he was burned at the stake in 1600 for insisting that the solar system is heliocentric. But as we have already seen, this was because he believed fervently in the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. He believed that the earth goes round the sun because, in the first instance, so too did the initiate priests of the ancient world.

Robert Fludd, the occult author and defender of the Rosicrucians, also invented the barometer.

Jan Baptiste van Helmont, the Flemish alchemist, was important in the secret societies for reintroducing into Western esotericism ideas of reincarnation – which he called ‘the revolution of humane souls’. He also separated gases in the course of his alchemical experiments, coined the word ‘gas’, and in the course of experiments on the healing powers of magnets, coined the word ‘electricity’.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German mathematician, was Newton’s rival in the devising of the calculus. In Leibniz’s case his discoveries arose out of fascination with cabalistic number mysticism which he shared with his close friend, the Jesuit scholar of the occult Athanasius Kircher. In 1687 Kircher, an alchemical student of the properties of the vegetable dimension, resurrected a rose from its ashes in front of the Queen of Sweden. Leibniz himself has also provided us with the most detailed and credible account of the alchemical transformation of base metals into gold.

The Royal Society was the great intellectual engine of modern science and technological invention. Among Newton’s contemporaries, Sir Robert Moray published the world’s first ever scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions – and was a fervent researcher into Rosicrucian teaching. The strange monk-like figure of Robert Boyle, whose law of thermodynamics paved the way for the internal combustion engine, was a practising alchemist. In his youth he wrote of having been initiated into an ‘invisible college’. Also practising alchemists were Robert Hooke, inventor of the microscope, and William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood.

Descartes, who fathered rationalism in the mid-seventeenth century, spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down the Rosicrucians and in researching their philosophy. He rediscovered the ancient, esoteric idea of the pineal gland as the gateway to consciousness, the inner eye, and his philosophical breakthrough came to him all of a piece while in a visionary state. His most famous dictum may be seen as a recasting of the Rosicrucian teaching intended to help foster the evolution of an independent, intellectual faculty: I must think in order to be.

Frontispiece, designed by John Evelyn, to the official history of the Royal Society, published in 1667. Francis Bacon is depicted as the founding father. He sits under the wing of an angel in a way that echoes the closing phrase of the Fama Fraternitatis of the Rosicrucians.

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Blaise Pascal, one of the great mathematicians of his day and an eminent philosopher, was discovered after his death to have sewn into his cloak a piece of paper on which was written: ‘The year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, day of St Clement, Pope and Martyr. From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve at night, FIRE.’ Pascal achieved the illumination that the monks of Mount Athos sought.

In 1726 Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels predicted the existence and orbital periods of the two moons of Mars, which were not discovered by astronomers using telescopes until 1877. The astronomer, who then saw how accurate Swift had been, named the moons Phobos and Deimos – fear and terror – so awestruck was he by Swift’s evident supernatural powers.

Emmanuel Swedenborg, the great eighteenth-century Swedish visionary, wrote detailed accounts of his journeys into the spirit worlds. His reports of what the disembodied beings he met there told him inspired the esoteric Freemasonry of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was also the first to discover the cerebral cortex and the ductless glands, and also engineered what is still the largest dry dock in the world.

As we have already seen, Charles Darwin attended séances. He may have had the opportunity to learn the esoteric doctrine of the evolution from fish to amphibian to land animal to human from his close association with Max Müller, early translator of sacred Sanskrit texts.

Nicholas Tesla, recently described by a historian of science as ‘the ultimate visionary crank’, was a Serbian Croat who became a naturalized American. There he patented some seven hundred inventions including fluorescent lights and the Tesla coil that generates an alternating current. Like Newton’s most important breakthroughs, this last arose out of his belief in an etheric dimension between the mental and physical planes.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many leading scientists thought it worthwhile to pursue a scientific approach to occult phenomena, believing that it would ultimately be possible to measure and predict occult forces such as etheric currents that seemed only a shade more elusive than electromagnetism, sound waves or x-rays. Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph and therefore the godfather of all recorded sound, and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, both supposed that psychic phenomena were perfectly respectable areas of research for science, involving themselves in esoteric Freemasonry and theosophy. Edison tried to make a radio that would tune into the spirit worlds. Their great scientific discoveries arose out of this research into the supernatural. Even the television was invented as a result of trying to capture psychic influences on gases fluctuating in front of a cathode ray tube.

(From chapter 23 of, A Secret History of the World, by Mark Booth.)

This is not accident or coincidence. Curious people follow the white rabbit down strange paths. Because their desire for answers is stronger than their desire to fit in.

Fitting in is a shackle on the mind.

The Enemies

You are the enemy of curiosity.

Your desire to gain prestige and status from others. Your desire to “win” the games created by others. Career games. Education games. Title games. Awards games. Fame games. Money games.

The only game worth playing is the game of chasing down your questions and desires. But it’s easy to forget that. We want to feel alive, and a quick hit of respectability from strangers does the trick. For a minute. Then we need more. And the more we prioritize it the deeper enslaved we become.

When pursuing prestige, our mind becomes our enemy. We must restrain it and bend and form it to the collective blob of drooling thoughtless belief in “What we all know”.

No! Every theory deserves questioning. Every assumption deserves scrutiny. Nothing is out of bounds.

The enemies of curiosity never tell you why pursuing magic or faith healing or inter-dimensional travel or religion or moon landing conspiracies is a waste of time. They don’t make arguments about the ideas themselves. They only appeal to prestige. They tell you people who chase those rabbits are dumb. They tell you of the social cost you’ll endure. They tell you it’s a waste of time because “they” have already settled these things. Why repeat the work of getting answers “we” already have?

The enemies of curiosity think the only things worth pursuing are new additions to the body of accepted knowledge. Examining the foundations is silly. But the foundations are always wrong. Questioning everything, all that is established, known, sacred, and solid; that is the role of curiosity.

It doesn’t help to blame others. The enemy within who desires respectability over truth is the one you need to defeat.

Stoke the Flame

Crazy ideas reveal thought processes.

Most people shut down crazy questions because it would be too much work to refute them point-by-point. Not because they cannot be refuted – most can, because few crazy ideas turn out to be true – but because most of us have never done the work necessary to justify the beliefs we hold.

“Prove to me the earth isn’t flat” is the question of a curious mind. It is a good question. It’s good because it forces us to think through how we know what we know. It exposes our direct experience as the pathetic sliver it is. If you can’t prove it through direct observation, how can you? What if appealing to experts or second-hand accounts doesn’t count? Can you reason to it? These questions stimulate real thought.

Embracing such questions brings humility. It reveals how silly absolute thinking is in most cases. It uncovers incentives and probabilities. You begin to analyze the likelihood that person X is correct, or why person Y might benefit by exaggerating. It shows complexity and uncertainty and the amount of knowledge that is guesswork.

The kinds of questions small children ask are pure curiosity. “Why is the sky blue?” How many adults still ask that? Did they stop asking because they completely understand the answer, or because they stopped being curious? Because it would be “weird” to ask such questions?

Kids want to know why all the myths and stories and movies are full of super powers, but they don’t see anyone leaping buildings or reading minds around them. Do you know why? Are you fully satisfied with your answers? Why? Because it seems like a waste of time to think about it, or because you have a thorough understanding of what’s possible? Did answers come, or did curiosity leave?

We Don’t Know Anything

Take archaeology. Archaeologists have no idea what to make of their field.

There are thousands of ancient structures that no one knows anything about.

From elaborate underground cities to buried megaliths, there are countless pieces of the past that no one knows who created, when, why, or how. We are utterly stumped. Hundreds of times over.

And that’s just with the stuff that’s been found.

New amazing things are discovered all the time. Not just little things that add detail to notions of the past. Things that make previous theories impossible.

Only twenty years ago, an entire Egyptian city declared by all the academic experts to be a myth, was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Much like the city of Troy, it was found not by a “professional”, but a hobbyist who was more dedicated than any tenure-seeking conservative with little curiosity. A businessman from France raised the funds and spent years combing the seafloor while the academics sat on their asses. He found temples, statues, jewelry, pottery, canals, docks, and hundreds of ships. The find proved that Egyptians were seafaring and robust trade with Greece was ongoing.

A few decades ago in Turkey a site was found 50 times larger than Stonehenge. It’s still 95% buried, but what has been uncovered is a complete knockdown of all previous textbook history. It looks to be nearly 12,000 years old and way more sophisticated than anything that age is supposed to be. Nobody really understands it.

Also recently discovered was the largest yet crater from an apparent asteroid strike under the ice in Greenland. This thing was bigger than the one thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, but appears to have occurred much more recently.

This is just scratching the surface. How many places under the ocean or buried in earth are there? Whale bones have been found in the Sahara. Virtually none of the Sahara has ever been explored or excavated. What else could be there?

We know so little about our own history, let alone the history of plants, animals, and the climate of this planet. Accepted history covers a laughable sliver and does a laughable job even of that.

Accuracy is Impossible

I’ll never forget when I worked in the Michigan state capitol and would see various events and protests. The next day I’d read coverage in the newspaper. More often than not, the coverage described (and sometimes even depicted with fudged photos) events that were nothing at all like what I witnessed firsthand. That was one day later, from a source of the same language with a shared culture in an age of internet access. And still, what was printed was accepted by the majority of Michiganders yet it was woefully inaccurate.

Remove any ability for counter-narratives. Throw in different, even dead languages. Throw in radically different cultural contexts and ways of describing things. Oh, and add not a few days or weeks or even years, but centuries or millennia.

The idea that history paints an accurate picture or that archaeology can map out the details of the past is beyond ludicrous.

Of course we must try! But we should be humble enough to see these as best guesses given current information, never as “consensus” (a word that does not belong in a serious and ongoing intellectual discipline, but to religions and dead lines of thought).

A curious mind should rejoice at all this mystery. Somehow the most credentialed are almost without exception threatened by it. They gave up the journey of discovery when they got on the road to status and tenure.

So Much More

That’s just a glimpse into one discipline.

We don’t know what gravity is, why the moon orbits like it does, what the billions of bacteria in our bodies do, how viruses work or whether they are living, or why we experience time as flowing forward.

No question or theory is out of bounds. Explore them all. Ask why old theories got dropped and what made current “consensus” win. (The answers are unflattering to the consensus peddlers.) Ask what would happen if we scrapped all our assumptions. Ask.

Curiosity doesn’t just lead to knowledge for humanity. It leads to being fully alive on the individual level.

Stay curious.

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Don’t Netflix Your Way Through Crises

One thing I find especially bothersome about the response to the COVID-2019 pandemic is the common meme telling average people to “just stay home and watch Netflix.”

What does it say about us that this is a common idea of how to respond to a major crisis? The Netflix prescription is a passive, helpless, hopeless way to experience a trying time which may last for months. It’s a meaning-starved narcotic for people who have the time and luxury to watch it. And it’s not much of a palliative for people who are losing their jobs or friends and loved ones.

Sure – let’s watch some movies if that’s a normal part of life for us. But there are about a thousand better things we can be doing.

We can be supporting our friends and families. We can be catching up with old friends online and in video calls, delivering groceries for at-risk folks, and sharing important public health advisories with our neighbors.

We can be developing ourselves and improving our own lives. We can be learning new skills and languages, reading useful books, exercising outside (away from people), painting, teaching, or selling.

We can be preparing for the shockwaves and the aftermath of this crisis. We can be planting gardens and raising chickens and buying investments and fixing things around the house and stocking up and learning first aid.

We can be supporting the response to the pandemic. We can be donating, raising funds for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, or contributing time to online crowdsourced projects to make masks and other gear.

And we can do all of these things – as we would with Netflix – from home. There aren’t enough good shows on any streaming platforms to make this time worthwhile only for consumption. Find something useful and meaningful now: you won’t regret it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Coronavirus Reminds Us What Education Without Schooling Can Look Like

As the global coronavirus outbreak closes more schools for weeks, and sometimes months—some 300 million children are currently missing class—parents, educators, and policymakers are panicking.

Mass compulsory schooling has become such a cornerstone of contemporary culture that we forget it’s a relatively recent social construct. Responding to the pandemic, the United Nations declared that “the global scale and speed of current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”

We have collectively become so programmed to believe that education and schooling are synonymous that we can’t imagine learning without schooling and become frazzled and fearful when schools are shuttered. If nothing else, perhaps this worldwide health scare will remind us that schooling isn’t inevitable and education does not need to be confined to a conventional classroom.

Mass Schooling Is a New Idea

For most of human history, up until the mid-19th century, education was broadly defined, diversely offered, and not dominated by standard schooling. Homeschooling was the default, with parents assuming responsibility for their children’s education, but they were not the only ones teaching them.

Small dame schools, or nursery schools in a neighbor’s kitchen, were common throughout the American colonial and revolutionary eras; tutors were ubiquitous, apprenticeships were valued and sought-after, and literacy rates were extremely high. Public schools existed to supplement education for families that wanted them, but they did not yet wield significant power and influence.

The Puritan colonists’ passed the first compulsory education laws in Massachusetts Bay in the 1640s describing a state interest in an educated citizenry and compelling towns of a certain size to hire a teacher or to open a grammar school. But the compulsion rested with towns to provide educational resources to those families who wanted them, not with the families themselves.

Historians Kaestle and Vinovskis explain that the Puritans “saw these schools as supplements to education within the family, and they made no effort to require parents actually to send their children to school rather than train them at home.” This all changed in 1852 when Massachusetts passed the nation’s first compulsory schooling statute, mandating school attendance under a legal threat of force. Writing in his book, Pillars of the Republic, Kaestle reminds us: “Society educates in many ways. The state educates through schools.”

Society Without Schooling

We already have glimpses of what education without schooling can look like. When the Chicago teachers’ strike shut down public schools for 11 days last October, civil society stepped up to fill in the gaps.

Community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club opened their doors during the daytime to local youth, the aquarium and local museums offered special programming, church and religious organizations welcomed young people with tutoring and enrichment activities, public libraries and parks were populated with families, and the federal school lunch program continued to nourish children in need.

This same pattern repeats itself during summer school vacation each year, with various community organizations, local businesses, and public spaces such as libraries and parks offering educational and recreational experiences for young people.

The idea that children and adolescents need to be enclosed within a conventional school classroom in order to learn is a myth. Humans are hard-wired to learn. Young children are exuberant, creative, curious learners who are passionate about exploration and discovery. These qualities do not magically disappear with age. They are routinely smothered by standardized schooling.

As Boston College psychology professor and unschooling advocate, Peter Gray, writes in his book, Free To Learn:

Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines. Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. . . Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling.

As humans increasingly coexist with robots, it’s crucial that young people retain and cultivate the imagination, ingenuity, and desire for learning that separate human intelligence from its artificial antipode. These qualities can be ideally nurtured outside of a standardized, one-size-fits-all school classroom where children and adolescents are free to pursue their interests and develop important skills and knowledge, while being mentored by talented adults in their communities.

An example of this type of learning is a series of spring daytime classes for homeschoolers at a makerspace in Boston offering up to nine hours of content each week in topics ranging from architecture and design to STEM science and art, taught by trained engineers, scientists, and artists. These are the types of high-quality educators and learning experiences that can and do flourish when we seek and support education without schooling.

In addition to its health scare, coronavirus has triggered widespread fear about how children can be educated when they can’t go to school. Despite the fact that mass compulsory schooling is a relic of the industrial age, its power and influence continue to expand. Perhaps some families will now discover that education outside of standard schooling is not only nothing to fear but may actually be the best way to learn in the innovation era.

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Coronavirus May Lead to “Mass Homeschooling”

As fears of coronavirus mount around the globe, cities and countries are taking action to prevent the new respiratory virus strain from spreading. While the virus has not yet hit hard in the United States, government officials and health agencies have enacted response plans, corporations are halting travel abroad, and education leaders are grappling with what a widespread domestic outbreak of the virus could mean for schoolchildren.

In countries where the virus is active, schools have been shut down and children are at home, learning alongside their parents or through online education portals. The New York Times reports that US schools have been prompted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for a coronavirus epidemic that could shutter schools and require alternate forms of teaching and learning outside the conventional classroom. According to Kevin Carey of the New America think tank, coronavirus in the US could lead to “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling.”

Indeed, in Hong Kong this is already occurring. The coronavirus outbreak led to orders for schools to be shut down in the city for two months, affecting 800,000 students. An article this week in The Wall Street Journal declares that “coronavirus prompts a whole city to try home schooling,” noting that in Hong Kong many children are completing lessons virtually through online learning platforms or receiving live instruction from teachers through Google Hangouts or similar digital tools.

It’s unfortunate that it takes a viral epidemic to spotlight the many alternatives to conventional K-12 schooling. Not only is homeschooling widely popular in the US, educating approximately two million children nationwide, but other schooling alternatives, such as virtual learning, microschooling, and hybrid homeschooling continue to sprout.

Virtual learning programs such as the Florida Virtual School, founded in 1997 as the nation’s first fully online public high school, and K12, Inc., one of the largest providers of virtual schooling, enable young people to take a complete course load and earn a high school diploma without sitting in a traditional classroom environment. Supplementary online programs, such as Khan Academy and Outschool, expand learning options and allow young people to dig deeper into topics that interest them or those in which they may need some additional help.

Interest in online learning options is sure to increase as the coronavirus spreads, but other in-person schooling alternatives are also likely to gain notoriety. Microschools, for example, are small, home-based, multi-age learning environments that act like a one-room schoolhouse, typically with no more than 8 to 12 students at a time. Prenda is a fast-growing network of these branded, in-home microschools, with more than 80 schools in Arizona alone serving some 550 students, and plans to expand out-of-state.

Like microschools, hybrid homeschooling programs and small, community-based classes for homeschoolers are also gaining popularity and may be swept into the limelight if conventional schools are forced to temporarily close. Operating with small, age-mixed groups of children, these hybrid models and classes offer an alternative to institutional schooling, avoiding large classrooms and crowded buildings. I have recently launched a marketplace platform, Unschool.school, that connects educators, parents, and learners to these homeschooling models and out-of-school learning experiences, fostering small group, in-person interactions in local community spaces, such as art studios, makerspaces, and spare dining rooms.

These emerging learning options outside of traditional schooling show not only that “mass homeschooling” is possible but also that it may be highly desirable. Personalized learning, small group interactions that build community and connection, and education without the coercion inherent in standard schooling are beneficial whether or not a pending epidemic is what exposes families to these education possibilities. Mass homeschooling may be just the cure we need.

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Preemptive Wealth Management

It’s kind of funny that most curricula are focused on kids and young adults learning things before they need to know them.

They learn about and memorize facts and ideas that are completely unnecessary to solving actual problems they face. The idea is so that they’ll be prepared and know things in case they ever become important or useful to know in the future. It’s odd for several reasons, not least of which is that this kind of learning has almost no retention, but especially because most of the students won’t end up ever facing most of the problems even if they did retain the knowledge. (I have used Pythagorean theorem once in my entire life, and even then I didn’t remember its name or the specific formula, but had a vague idea that there was a way to find out one length of a triangle if I had the other two. Google did the rest.)

It should be taken as a given then that I am not pushing for “just in case” learning, or any kind of compulsory education period.

But if one were to agree with the standard approach of learning a bunch of things that might possibly be useful to some sliver of the class at some point in the future, you would think there might be a good bit of material on wealth management. After all, there are 12 million millionaires in the US – more than 3% of the population – which is probably higher than the percent of students who will ever need to know how to label a mitochondria. If you believe in preparatory learning, preparing to manage wealth would seem at least as logical as preparing to be a medical doctor. (There are roughly 900,000 doctors in the US, or less than 0.3% of the population).

We tend to think about wealth as only a benefit, not a problem to be dealt with. “Oh yeah, sure would be nice if my biggest challenge was learning how to manage a million bucks!” Maybe. But probably not as nice as we imagine.

What’s the opportunity cost of paying off a mortgage vs putting the money to work in the market? How liquid do you need to be? Where to keep cash since banks are only insured or $250,000 in deposits? How to deal with requests and demands from friends and family? How much to hedge against exogenous economic shocks? How to do so? How to not get taken advantage of by financial planners, lawyers, accountants, and managers of family offices and trusts? What’s the best way to handle inheritances so you give your kids a leg up but don’t cripple them and rob their ability to gain strength by solving their own problems?

Most people have trouble with financial management at the paycheck to paycheck level. More money doesn’t magically solve that. The problems just get bigger and the stakes higher.

While the idea of compulsory public schools teaching wealth management is not desirable, there might be something to the idea of individuals who desire to achieve wealth learning how to manage it a few steps ahead of time. If nothing else, the mindset alone is a form of subconscious confidence building. Investing in wealth management is a kind of bet on yourself that you will put it to use.

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